Manaus & Central Amazon: Planning Your Time
One of the most memorable things about a visit to the Amazon is what you hear in the jungle. There are the mysterious sounds inside the forest at night, when the many nocturnal creatures are roaming about, and at sunrise, when a myriad of birds take off over the jungle canopy. Some of the jungle birds are remarkably vocal, such as the flocks of bright green Parrots or red Macaws that scream out their wild complaints as they fly overhead. Everything in the Amazon seems larger than life, amplified and exaggerated. The colors are brighter, the temperature hotter, the plants bigger, and the fish tastier than you could have imagined. After you get settled in, you’ll be ready for some adventures.
Amazon: What To Do
You’ll float in a canoe across a large, still lake to see lily pads the size of coffee tables and then, as night falls, you’ll hear the sounds of the jungle change from day to night. You’ll see the glowing red eyes of the Caiman (akin to an alligator) sitting motionless in the water at night, and feel the tug of a Piranha at the end of your fishing line. High up in the jungle canopy, you’ll walk across suspended footpaths to observations towers, where you’ll spot monkeys, birds and even Giant Sloth. In the morning, the Pink River Dolphins often perform acrobatics around the lakes and in the Meeting of the Rivers area, where the Amazon River is born out of two completely different streams–one creamy white with mud and sediment, the other dark and warm, like tea.
The Central Amazon Region is where two big rivers cut through the jungle, then meet up to form the Amazon River. There are vast areas that are off-limits to visitors, due to their native inhabitants or sensitive ecosystems (or both). But within the region are also numerous ecological preserves and national parks encompassing hundreds of square kilometers of virgin forest. Along the waterways are numerous jungle lodges, where visitors can stay in relative comfort (or total comfort in some cases) and organize their various safaris and excursions into the jungle and along the rivers. The Capital of the state of Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil and home to most of the Brazilian Amazon, is Manaus, a large city of almost three million inhabitants. Manaus is a shocking contrast to the surrounding environment. Many visitors want to get as far from it as possible, to experience the untouched aspects of the jungle. But there are many other cities and towns in the Central Amazon Region, including São Geraldo da Cachoeira to the east, with a population of almost 80% Indian or Caboclo (Indian and Portuguese mix) and the city of Parintins to the west, with it’s great Festival of the Ox. In-between are numerous small towns and villages.
Almost 60% of the Amazon Jungle lies within Brazil’s borders and about 50% of Brazil is part of the Amazon Jungle. In other words, the amount of Brazil that is not part of the Amazon is about equal to the amount of Amazon Jungle that is not inside Brazil. Without a doubt, the Amazon is Brazil’s most important national treasure, and national responsibility. It comprises almost two million species of plants and animals, one-fifth of the fresh water on the planet, and about as many secrets and mysteries as there are stars in the sky. With an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, the Amazon can easily hover around 40 degrees Celsius during the day. Humidity chimes in at around 80%. There are only two seasons in the jungle: the wet season and the dry season. The wet season is at the end of Brazil’s Summer, from December to May, when temperatures are cooler and heavy rains occur daily. The dry season goes from June to November and this is when it gets hot. Corresponding to these two seasons goes the level of the river–changing as much as ten meters in depth between the two periods.
Manaus & Central Amazon: Planning Your Time
There are several ways to pay a visit to the Central Amazon Region around Manaus and they differ according to your accommodations. Staying in a hotel in Manaus allows you to create your own agenda of excursions and tours, even on the spot while you’re in town. This is what many visitors do when their trip to Manaus is short, requiring that their journeys lie within a few hours of the city. This is the best way to visit the jungle without a packaged agenda–although all hotels will try to sell you on their packages. Most create packages together with third-party guides and tour agencies, taking you around to the principal sites of the area: the Meeting of the Waters, City Tour, Praia Ponta Negra, and Parque de Janeiro. You can also shop for your tours when you arrive in Manaus if you want to keep things open-ended.
Staying in a jungle lodge is the preferred option, as it gets you the deepest into the jungle. Most lodges have their own restaurants and excursions (both river trips and jungle hikes) and you generally spend your time at the lodge or on their excursions, since most are well out of town and some are downright hidden out in the jungle. Obviously, your trip is determined almost completely by the quality and style of the lodge. Lodges work with packages, and you can purchase packages as small as a single day. Some lodges allow day visits by people who are not staying at the lodge, but want to see and sample its facilities for the day. Most of these day visits have day-use fees and include lunch.
The third method is to stay on a floating hotel, which is a combination of excursion and accommodation. This means you’ll be spending all of your time with the hotel’s guided tours, whether on board or off in the jungle. Some of these floating excursions are long (like a trip between Belém and Manaus) and others are short (just around the major Manaus attractions, for example).
How much time you spend in your chosen accommodation and which one you choose depends mostly on your budget. If you have time, a good idea is to combine these trips; spend two days and two nights in Manaus, taking the city tour and seeing the popular attractions in the area, then move to a jungle lodge for a more in-depth look at the jungle, or take a boat up Rio Negro on a multi-day excursion to São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Mixing and matching is a great way to go.
Don’t Miss In the Central Amazon
Amazon Night Safari: The eyes of the great Caiman crocodile stare back, bright red and glowing, as you shine a light on them from your small canoe. They sit motionless in the still waters along the margins of the rivers, waiting for their prey to come within proximity.
Manatees and Pink Dolphins: Two of the most enchanting creatures in the Amazon are the two large water mammals that can be found all along Rio Negro and its tributaries. They are extremely intelligent and not very intimidated by humans. Sometimes the dolphins swim right up beside the boats.
Meeting of the Waters: The dramatic difference between the cold, muddy water of the Solim<\#155>es and the warm, smoky water of the Negro continues even after they join to become the Amazon River. For eight kilometers the two rivers remain separate, yet flow together. Pink River Dolphins like to come here to play in the two different sides.
Giant Water Lilies: Among the plants most associated with the Amazon is the giant Queen Victoria Water Lily. Its pads reach up to two meters in diameter–large enough for most people to lie across without touching the sides. It’s found in still lakes throughout the region and you can paddle up to get a close inspection in your canoe.
Anavilhanas Archipelago: A portion of the Negro River about 100 kilometers west of Manaus contains over 400 long, narrow islands that combine to form a kind of maze out of the waterways around them. The area is home to a rich array of plants and animals, including the Manatee, Pink River Dolphins, and at least two species of monkeys.
Teatro Amazonas: If you see one attraction in the city of Manaus, make it the Teatro. This luxurious theater exudes the great rubber boom in its rich design and imported furnishings. It’s still used for presentations of opera and Brazilian music.
Best Jungle Lodges
Ariau Towers Jungle Lodge: The largest lodge in the Central Amazon Region, Ariau is a series of jungle cabanas that combine to offer the most complete set of option in the jungle. They have extensive suspended trails up in the jungle canopy and seven separate observation towers.
Acajatuba Jungle Lodge: Made entirely of wood and jungle plants, the Acajatuba sits on the side of a wide area in the river, with incredible views. Rooms are joined in small groups and offer comfort in a rustic setting. Their restaurant has a panoramic view of the area.
Amazon Ecopark Lodge: One of the most elite lodges in the jungle, the Ecopark has long stretches of suspended trails that lead to its Primate Rehab Center, where you can watch the monkeys all day long. They also have a beautiful restaurant and plenty of excursion options. Manaus is only 20 minutes away by boat.
Juma Jungle Hotel: The most rustic of the bunch, this hotel offers simplicity and great contact with the jungle canopy. The entire hotel is built on stilts and they offer a great set of excursions for their guests.